28 March 2007

When It Rains, It Snows!

Too many exciting things are happening at once. I feel my life is viable to explode.

Today I got my first assignment from John Welch for contributing to the Collected Works of Hugh Nibley (CWHN) project. They want to have all his papers processed in time for what would be his 100th birthday, March 27, 2010, so they need all the volunteers they can get. I'm working on retyping a transcription of a speech Nibley gave in the 1970's on translation (the language related kind, not the gospel type). It's very exciting, though I'm not sure how in the world I'll have time for this. Ah well. It makes me excited anyway.

I'm presenting my early Mormon rhetoric paper at the AML meeting at UVSC April 7th. I did all right when I read it at the Humanities Symposium at BYU, but hopefully this time I can slow down so people can actually understand what I'm saying. And maybe they'll have a podium tall enough that I can actually look at the audience without losing my place completely. Any tall people with me on that? (PS - You're all invited to come hear me! The conference is free.)

In exactly a month from today, I will be in Scotland hiking Ben Lomond!! And I've been wasting much valuable homework time mapping out the study abroad stops on Google Earth. Don't worry, I'll make the .kmz file available to y'all when I finish it, so you can all be properly jealous and stalk my journeyings efficiently. I've also been scoping out the various travel blogging sites to decide which one I want to use for my forays in England. Any suggestions from fellow travel bloggers?

I've been dating George for 48 days now. Not that I'm counting. Not that they've been some of the best days of my life.

And he's coming to my brother's baptism and the extended family after-priesthood-session dinner on Saturday.

What am I doing taking off to England for two months without him?

Speaking of, general conference is coming up, and I hear they're going to rededicate the tabernacle, which should be exciting. I'm trying to decide whether or not to do a blog-cast of conference like I did last year. Maybe I'll just settle for eating junk food and doing some general conference Snuggling. Mmm. (And now I can't remember if the Church style guide says I should capitalize general conference or not. Good thing I'm in the Writing Center and can look it up. Guess what? You don't, unless you use the full official title with the number. Does anyone else feel like they never seem to get out of the 170's? My brother and I have a long standing joke that every year it's the 176th or 179th and they never really change.)

The cover art for the final Harry Potter book is also out. Gah! I'm so excited! I just finished charting all the Harry Potter film locations I want to visit while I'm in London. :D

And to top it all off, there's snow on the ground this morning. My life is complete.

26 March 2007

Sexuality at BYU

This was originally going to be the subject of my first BCC post. I chickened out, for obvious reasons. It was somewhat inspired by Courtney's post on sex education.

BYU students are naive about sex. Having grown up in a culture where sexuality is never discussed, they've essentially become asexual creatures. Anything sexual has become dirty, to the point where some students make the decision not to kiss until they're married in order to avoid the risk of tainting their love with any impure desires and to avoid any sort of temptation. My writing teacher, after lecturing on the persuasive techniques of a rather explicit article on abortion, once had a student approach her wanting to discuss some sexual problems in her new marriage. The student felt there was no way she could turn to her parents because they would think she was sinful to even talk about it. Clearly, BYU students need some help being well-adjusted in their sexual attitudes.

BYU students are obsessed with sex. Having grown up in a culture where sexuality is never disucssed, they've essentially become overly sexual creatures. Students crave physical intimacy--see the fascination with NCMO a few years ago--because no one has taught them how to deal with it appropriately. It's a long standing joke how quickly a couple can go from a first date to marriage at BYU, something some people attribute to sexual desire overwhelming common sense. I mean, it's a popular enough opinion to have its own (rather long) section on the Wikipedia BYU entry's talk page. Clearly, BYU students need some help being well-adjusted in their sexual attitudes.

Wait, what? Can two such opposite views be held about (apparently) the same group of people? And how can two such disaparate results both be seen as originating from Mormon culture's way of dealing with sexuality?

Now, granted, my experience with this topic is . . . limited, if you know what I mean. But I believe that these two different stereotypes say more about the people who fit them than the system that created them. If both of these types came through the Church, then I'd say personal choice has a lot more influence on your attitudes than does a particular method of sex education. From my observations, the vast majority of BYU students are actually pretty well-adjusted about their sexuality. They see that it's an important part of marriage relationship, that it's nothing to be ashamed of, but also that they should be careful not to worship it. The two groups described above are no more an accurate representation of the Church than the uber-liberal or uber-conservative Mormons are. It's an unfair and unjustified stereotype.

Yeah, this definitely wasn't solidly argued enough to hold up to a BCC audience. Woah, three posts today. I better take a rest and not over-exert myself.

Another Reason to Love Orson Scott Card

From his latest column:

Let's face it. You don't start writing fiction if you didn't have a healthy dose of vanity and ambition. What could be more arrogant than to believe that stuff you make up out of your head will be so pleasurable to others that they ought to pay you to be able to read it?

And then we have contests to see whose made-up stuff is best.
Yup, I love this man. Too bad he's already married.

Posting Angst

After much angst and a busy weekend, I finally made my first post on BCC today. Yay! I was going to do something a little more daring, but perhaps you'll see why I decided not to when I get around to posting my original first post on this blog later instead. It should be sometime later today, unless I'm hindered by school.

23 March 2007

Encore! Encore!

What do you do with a B.A. in English?
What is my life going to be?
Four years of college and plenty of knowledge
Have earned me this useless degree.

I can't pay the bills yet
'Cause I have no skills yet.
The world is a big scary place.

But somehow I can't shake
The feeling I might make
A difference
To the human race.

-"What Do You Do with a BA in English?", Avenue Q

20 March 2007

History Repeating Itself: Soulforce, Again

Ahhh. Spring is in the air, the flowers are thinking about the possibility of blooming, students are strewn all over BYU quads just free of snow, and Soulforce is coming to BYU.

Yes, again. For those of you who didn't catch the drama last year, here's the recap:

Hurray. Interesting things are already happening with this year's visit. First of all, BYU sent out the following email to students:
Similar to last spring, a group known as Soulforce, Inc. is planning to come to Provo on March 21 and 22. Based on our experience last April when Soulforce violated university policy, which is applicable to all those coming to campus and which was explained to Soulforce in writing before its arrival, the university has informed Soulforce that it will not be allowed on campus this year as a group or as individuals. Soulforce made it clear last year that its intent was not to seek dialogue but to be arrested and to create a staged media event.

This year, we hope that Soulforce will respect BYU’s right as a private university to disallow any organization from using our campus as a public forum or to engage in a public expression event. As we clearly communicated to Soulforce before its trip began this spring, BYU will not change its policies or practices to accommodate any group’s desire to promote its initiatives.
Despite the fact that banning Soulforce from campus seems a little closed-minded, I have to agree with BYU's decision. The arguments I heard from this group last year were basically misinformed, narrow, and absolute: there was no reason for BYU students to talk with them. As Doug pointed out at the Writing Center today, Soulforce seeks to counter theological arguments with sociological arguments, which doesn't work. They aren't really interested in discussion so much as just having us yield our point of view to theirs. If they really wanted to discuss the position of homosexuals in the Church, they'll need to do a lot more research and be willing to listen as well as be listened to. Maybe it'll go better this year, since they have some Mormons on the trip, including a former co-worker of mine from the Cougareat.

What does concern me is this letter Soulforce received from Church headquarters, informing the "riders" not to visit Temple Square. I understand the Church probably has concerns about the possibility of protest by the group. However, this trip to Temple Square seemed like the first genuine thing Soulforce has done to try to understand the Mormon mindset. It really doesn't reflect well on us that we won't let that happen.

Well, the talk has already started on this year's visit. Perhaps I'll go back and finish my "Thoughts on Homosexuality" series in honor of the occasion.

17 March 2007

Going Up?

So, yeah. To the three of you who I haven't already freaked out to, I've been asked to guest blog on By Common Consent for two weeks starting Wednesday! I'm very excited, but also a little scared. How do I write to an audience who doesn't know me and my spherical chickens? I'm very protective of them, you know.

On the other hand, this is my chance to wield some "influence" in the blogging community. Which of course leads me to wonder what the purpose of blogging is. The audience for blogs in general, though ever expanding, is still rather limited, as I realized when I tried to explain the magnitude of my excitement about BCC to some non-blogging friends. Just like everything else, blogging only holds weight if you are part of the "in" community. (This is one of the things that holds me back from wanting to be part of official academia--who wants to write to an audience that small? You've gotta write for the masses to make it worth while! But that's another post.)

So after much inner wrestling, I've decided this: the reason I like blogging is because it's brought dignity back to the form of writing we call the essay. Down-trodden by bad academic jargon and careless students, the blog has once again made the essay (and more generally writing) a viable form of entertainment and art. And it's the kind of writing I like--I have a hard time with fiction (because of characterization, mostly); my poetry's all right, not stellar; but the essay is my forte, for sure. It's just the joy of being able to organize ideas clearly and lead someone else through your thoughts--to unify minds, if only for a moment.

In OChem this morning I sketched out a list of topics I could possibly blog about on BCC as well as here. There were 12. Hugh Nibley class added three more. And I just remembered Soul Force is coming to BYU next week--with one of my former coworkers as a "rider"--which would be interesting to blog about, assuming I'm daring enough to open that can of worms. And then I remember how crazy busy I am reading Middlemarch right now . . . . (Ooh, Middlemarch--good topic! The possibility of a Protestant saint, Eliot says? How about a Mormon one?)

How do people outside of college ever come up with enough content for a blog? All I know is that I feel inundated with more ideas than I have time to develop. I better figure out how to merge a few of these topics together so I don't go insane.

13 March 2007

Criticizing the Church: A How To Guide

One of my major irritations with the bloggernacle (the Mormon blogging community), and probably Church culture in general, is criticism of the Church. As I've blogged about before in The Problem of Perfection: Part II, I feel very torn over how we should be doing it, if at all. On the one hand, blind faith is the opposite of what the Church is about. After all, one of Brother Brigham's greatest fears, according to urban legend, is that the saints will follow their leaders down to hell. Questioning and gaining a personal testimony of each principle is an important part of what we believe. "Seek and ye shall find," and all that jazz.

But then we come up against point eleven of President Ezra Taft Benson's classic address Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet: "The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion—speaking as a man." This worries me, because this is exactly what happens in a lot of Church-critical debates, and I wonder sometimes if I myself might not be guilty. I can't think of any major incidents at the moment, but I never want to be in danger of falling over that edge.

So how can I be intellectually honest and seeking to know of myself and yet keep myself away from the danger of hearkening not unto the counsel of God?

Enter Hugh Nibley stage right. (No groaning! You know you missed him when there was no Nibleyesque musing last week.) I just finished reading his speech "Criticizing the Brethren" (available at GospeLink.com or in volume 13 of his collected works), and I've officially decided it should be required reading for every Church member, or at least everyone in the bloggernacle. Dear old Hugh's writings--mostly quotes pulled from Joseph Smith--resolve exactly the dilemma I've been having on this subject.

The Good News
So the good news is this: Hugh Nibley, Joseph Smith, and the Church want to be criticized. In spite of the apparently centralized structure of our Church, as Times and Seasons recently remarked, the LDS Church doesn't have as strict of a definition of doctrine as we think it does. And this is not mere oversight on the part of our Church leaders. They've left us room for differing beliefs on purpose, as Hugh Nibley points out with this Joseph Smith quote:

I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believe as I please, it feels so good not to be tramelled. It dont prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine.

In other words, outside of a few basic and central beliefs, the Church gives us space for a wide range of beliefs. The range of Mormonism within your typical ward--from orthodox Mormons with 13+ children to new-agey liberal Mormons--is not a temporary problem to be resolved by Book-of-Mormon- or General-Conference-bashing with your neighbor, nor something that needs to be corrected at all. It's an intentional part of the gospel, and it's not as important as we think to clearly deliniate who's right and who's wrong. Nibley relates why:
All of us believe things that aren't true, things that will be proven false in time to come. Scientists like Galileo, Newton, Heisenberg, Planck, Hawking, and Penrose all have had differing beliefs about the very nature of our existence, the most fundamental doctrines of reality. Einstein used to bring God into it. But they all respected each other and didn't damn each other for wrong ideas.

On doctrinal issues that haven't been clearly stated as true or false, we should be able to agree to disagree, to acknowledge that all our opinions are subject to further revelation. As C.S. Lewis says, we should be capable of being in doubt, of saying, "God has revealed this much, and here's what I conjecture about the rest, but I don't know."

. . . With Reservations
Having established that criticism is an essential part of the way the Church works, Hugh Nibley has some qualifications to give, which I'll briefly outline below:
  1. Be humble and teachable in your criticism. "You don't know so damn much." We believe in a gospel of continual revelation, so it's likely that the whole basis for your argument could be made irrelevant by new revelation.
  2. Focus your criticism on what you can control: yourself. "Search your hearts & see if you are like god." Undoubtedly, you aren't. Therefore, most of your criticism should be devoted to getting rid of the beam in your own eye, rather than your neighbor's.
  3. Criticize with the Spirit, not with the intellect. Don't rely on your own judgement in the matter. "We frequently are so filled with prejudice, or have a beam in our own eye, that we are not capable of passing right decisions."
  4. Don't accuse when you criticize; debate instead. "To be constructive, criticism must reach the person for whom it is meant and, of course, he must have a chance to reply--but that is discussion, not criticism."
  5. Don't worry so much. If God is really leading the Church, then it cannot fail. "What would Jospeh Smith do about evil? He didn't worry, because God was in charge." Trust a little more.
  6. Check your motivations. Often. "The critics are really just showing off." Beware of criticizing just so that you don't seem complacent. Also, beware of the "knee-jerk reaction, when upset, to blame the Brethren," or I might add, your neighbor.
  7. Is the matter trivial? Why waste your time? "These things are of too trivial a nature to occupy the attnetion of so large a body." If it's not really important to your eternal salvation, should you really be bothering? Preach nothing save repentance, after all.

The end sum of these reservations is this: we should have it both ways. Criticize, seek out the truth and the deep doctrines, but keep it mostly to yourself. There can be so little certainty in any criticism that it's hardly worth sharing except in the most disinterested, philosophical or private, personal conversations. Think before you speak: are you really going to want to be held to this opinion 3 years or 10 years down the road? I'll say it again--be willing to be in doubt. Stay aware and seeking in your heart, but be wary of trusting your own imperfect judgement. And above all, rely on the Lord.

The phrase I loved most in this article was Hugh Nibley's description of the Church as "an organization made up so largely of nonconformists." My liberal readers may scoff at thinking of their "orthodox" Mormon friends as nonconformists, but that depends on your definition. I'd say all that's required to be a nonconformist is to not do things for the purpose of conforming to a norm. It means following the genuine reasoning of your heart and the feelings of your mind (another Nibley analogy). Surprisingly, this noncomformist path doesn't lead us all in the same direction. An absolutely true Church with many variable paths--who could have predicted it? But then, to go back to C.S. Lewis, if it's something we wouldn't have imagined perhaps that testifies that it is true.

06 March 2007

BYUSA Broke Up the Beatles

In case you didn't catch last year's rant, I'm not very fond of BYUSA. In fact, I quite loathe it. Not that it doesn't fulfill some important functions--I'm sure planning parties and concerts, giving out free hot dogs, and shutting down which ever BYUSA organ is most popular that year are all necessary parts of university life. It gives students a chance to serve one another. And I suppose it's a good place for students to practice their "leadership skills." (I'm not quite sure I agree with the conventional definition of the phrase, but that's a whole different post. I'll write something about it after I read Nibley's article on leaders versus managers.)

No, my major gripe about BYUSA is that it pretends to be something that it's not, that is, a student government. And while it irks me slightly that BYU doesn't have a student government, I understand why this is so. At a Church-operated university, it's quite difficult for people to wrap their heads around the idea that debate and inspired leadership can operate simultaneously. But that's okay--I'm not particularly put out at the lack of grass-roots influence at BYU. I'm willing to trust the administrators to make good decisions. That's what they're hired/called to do.

But what I cannot/will not tolerate is the continued placating of the student body with the semblance of representation. Why pretend that BYUSA is a student government when it is clearly not? And why inflict the horrors of the electoral process on a student body that knows the results of the election make no difference? In what sense is it an election when the higher ups choose who is allowed to run and have the power to overturn the elections? If BYUSA-style elections took place in any third-world country, we'd be crying rigged elections to high heaven. But no one really cares about the unfairness of BYUSA elections because we all know the results don't particularly matter. Let's see, which annoying business major is going to get the scholarship this year?

But the worst part of it all is the campaign tactics. They are tolerable at best when you know the issues are important, but absolutely unbearable in a puppet election. Throwing fliers in your face, blasting music, wearing atrociously bad colors, not to mention the ukuleles . . . . I swear, the next orange- or yellow-covered individual who approaches me on the way to the JFSB with false promises about changing hours at the weigh room (which I don't care about anyway) is going to be faced with the full force of my anti-BYUSA wrath.

In an attempt to direct this fury in a more productive, or at least humorous, direction, some of the tutors at the Writing Center spent the vast majority of this morning creating a line of anti-campaign campaign buttons. Who would dare approach you to remind you to cast your ineffectual vote when you're wearing a sticker that says "BYUSA stuffed me in a locker" or "BYUSA wears combat boots"? I mean, I would think twice about it. Seriously, these things are the best thing I've done in a long time, and we're making t-shirts tomorrow. I really like the idea of combating absurdity with even greater absurdity.

Some of my favorite slogans:

  • BYUSA killed Dumbledore
  • BYUSA eats babies
  • BYUSA stole my girlfriend
  • BYUSA can't tell a good hollandaise sauce
  • BYUSA broke up the Beatles
  • BYUSA shot Ghandi
  • BYUSA slept through church
  • BYUSA stole my lunch money
  • BYUSA will blog about you later
  • BYUSA called me a girl
  • BYUSA is for Death Eaters
  • BYUSA doesn't like your scrapbook
  • BYUSA sunk the Titanic
  • BYUSA ate the last piece of pizza
  • BYUSA: because we hate democracy
  • BYUSA is a secret combination

05 March 2007

That Reading List Thing

I have two quips before I hop on the bandwagon and post this list. First, where did this list come from? What is it supposed to be of? It's the most odd blend of contemporary and classic I've seen in a while. Second, there are a lot of books on this list I have no desire to read, so they shouldn't count. :D

Das Key
Books I've Read
Books I've Partially Read
Books I've Never Read
Books I Never Intend to Read

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown)
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) (unfortunately)
3. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (J.R.R. Tolkien)
6. The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkien)
7. The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (J.R.R. Tolkien)
(Sorry, I've tried, really I have, but Tolkien and I just don't play nice.)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (J.K. Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown)
13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K. Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (J.K. Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)
22. The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie(Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (George Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. Bible
46. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) (unfortunately)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
55. The Great Gatsby (Scott Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (J.K. Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) (I heart crazy Russians!)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolsoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davies)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
70. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Helen Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (John Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind)
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer)
91. In the Skin of a Lion (Michael Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (William Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce)

Das Totals
Books I've Read - 21
Books I've Partially Read - 6
Books I've Never Read - 73

Conclusions: Assuming the books are arranged in order of relevance, I'm happy that most of my reading falls at the top of the list. And there are quite a few of these that I do want to read, but some I've never heard of. Again, by who's authority was this list contructed?

Family Stories

Did I mention how much I love my study abroad class? For the midterm, we got to make up our own questions related to the ideas we're discussing about the stories, and then just free-write about them for a class period. Awesomeness. The question I choose was "How are our roles in my family shaped by the stories we tell about each other? Do the stories we tell change the roles we play?" The question comes from David Copperfield--how his uncle Murdstone labels him unfairly as a problem child after only one incident. I think we tend to do this a lot in our lives, and I wanted to explore how my family does it. Anyway, I think the results are pretty interesting, and some of you might appreciate them. It was a good midterm though. It challenged me to write stories, rather than philosophy, which is something I need to practice. And I haven't done any editing yet for tone shifts and misspellings, so cut me some slack.

The least favorite story I’ve ever had told about me by my family is that I’m controlling. I’m an oldest child, it’s what I’m supposed to do, right? I spent a lot of my childhood babysitting younger siblings, or helping them out in school. In return for all this help, I’ve always felt like I deserved some sort of authority, like I should have a say. Authority’s probably not really the word I’m looking for, I guess. It’s more like advisory. I want to have my opinion count for something, to be able to give advice like a parent would. It’s the least I can ask: in exchange for the responsibility, shouldn’t I get a few of the rights?

But about when I was 15, my parents decided I was too controlling. Our family was never one to talk about these sorts of issues behind closed doors, in a calm and rational way. I think it started at the dinner table one night, when I was advising my sister on how to deal with her crazy friends who were always in some sort of drama. It seemed to come out of nowhere: “Liz, you’re not the mom. Stop it,” my sister said. I tried to defend everything I said as completely objective, and looked to my parents for backup on this. But I found the tables had been turned on me: “No, Liz, she’s right; you aren’t the parent, so you need to stay out of everyone else’s business.”

For the next few years, the phrase “you’re not the mom” haunted most of my hours at home. Like Murdstone’s labeling of Davy—“Be careful. I bite.”—it was soon blown past any original meaning. It was certainly true at one level that I needed to stop controlling people. It’s a problem that I’ll need to battle for a long time yet. But the phrase soon just popped out whenever I talked at home. I couldn’t state an opinion about whether it was going to rain tomorrow without being accused of coveting my former role. At first, I would try to explain how the situation was not at all similar to the original problem, but it took so much effort that I soon gave it up as a lost cause. It got to the point where I simply didn’t want to talk any more at home because no one would respond to what I was saying. All they could see was the problem.


Michael is my second youngest brother. Actually, he’s the second oldest too. He’s right in the middle of the three brothers—Spencer, Michael, and Josh. And he acted like a typical middle child, trapped in the middle of nowhere. He and Spencer never got along well. This is partially because for most of his childhood, Spencer was possessed of some sort of demon that convinced him the best way to have fun was to try to push other people’s buttons. Not in a friendly sort of way—the way you might tease someone who you loved. Not in a sadistic kind of way either—it wasn’t the same as the sick kid down the street who enjoyed mutilating animals for fun. It was really just a kind of psychological warfare, or perhaps experiment, for Spencer: to find the smallest thing that annoyed someone, something completely ordinary like putting his feet on top of your magazine or sitting in the chair right behind you when you practiced piano, something he could do completely on accident, and then to do it subtly and repeatedly until his victim’s temper finally exploded with nothing to blame for it.

Michael was his favorite victim because he had more of a temper than the rest of us. He had a hard time expressing himself with words—we later found out he was dyslexic—so he would lash out with his body. And since they were only two years apart, they were always together at family activities. They were expected to play together (as siblings who are close in age usually are; it never seems to work out well though). Spencer understood Michael inside and out, watched him like a hawk. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a list somewhere of all the tools Spencer could use to upset Michael.

It started out as only once or twice a week, but at its peak, there’d be a major fight once or twice an hour. Spencer would start out by breathing too loudly, or sitting too closely. Michael tried to tolerate it for as long as he could, but eventually he would just explode. Fists would be flying and hair would be pulled. Unfortunately, by then, Michael would be too mentally off-balance to do much damage while Spencer would be cool as a cucumber, keeping himself just out of harm’s way until Mom arrived. Then he’d play the innocent victim: “I wasn’t doing anything, Mom. He just started hitting me.”

My mom knew better, of course. I don’t think mothers ever really believe their children’s excuses, and she’d known about Spencer’s experiments for a long time. But I think she, like the rest of us had long given up trying to change Spencer. He seemed perversely stuck with who he was, and we’d just have to pray he’d grow out of it someday. No, she’d give Spencer a verbal slap on the wrist, and then turn to Michael. “You know, he can’t make you angry unless you let him. You just have to ignore him.” Every time, every day, the same thing.

It just became another tool in Spencer’s toolbox.


My mom and dad’s relationship has always been interesting. To this day, I’m not sure how they got together. They just seem so different from each other. Dad studied accounting and political science at school: can you get more practical than that? Meanwhile, my mother meandered through college. First, she studied computer science, practical enough, though I don’t think she did it to make money, but just because she liked the idea. But her real love showed through when she got her second degree in English and eventually earned her Master’s in--Horrors!--English. As impractical as you can get, though I still go to her when I need to talk about a good book or understand some doctrinal issue.

She was supposed to be abstract and flighty, or at least that’s the story my dad always used to tell about her. “Mom can’t multitask,” he would always say. He meant it kindly, and you could see that it was true. When she was talking to someone on the phone, you couldn’t have gotten her attention to let her know that her shoes were on fire. And speaking of fires, there was one time when she put cookies in the oven and then took all the kids to the library. Being raised by an English major, of course these trips took well over an hour. We returned to a smell like a charcoal bar-b-que that hadn’t been cleaned all winter had been lit inside the house. I still remember looking at those dozen cookies on the cookie sheet: perfectly round black circles, like I’d imagined coal might be.

She was always doing things like that when she was cooking, not adding the yeast into the bread dough or forgetting about the five pounds of raw meat she’d been defrosting in the microwave, so that you’d find the next morning when you went to heat up your oatmeal. Dad, on the other hand, has always been a wonderful cook. He can balance five different dishes and have them all finish at exactly the same time so that everything would be hot and fresh. And his cookies are still something I ask for every time I come home.

My mom always laughs it off when my dad points out her impracticality. “That’s why I married your dad,” she said, “so you kids would have some chance at not being scatterbrained like me.” But sometimes I see tears in her eyes when Dad would harass her after a particularly bad cooking fiasco, like the turkey that never seemed to be done.

02 March 2007

Amateurs and War: A Nibleyesque Musing

Nibley’s “Day of the Amateur” really expressed well my own views on education. I find it strange that even at BYU there are people going through the motions of getting a university education only for the purpose of obtaining a piece of paper—a “passport” to a better job, as Nibley says. The problem is that the university has two functions: to enrich individuals with a liberal education and to provide the education needed for more advanced jobs. Both of these purposes are important, but they interfere with each other. In job-training mode, the university’s job is to teach content that’s applicable to what individuals will be doing in the work place, but in liberal-education mode, it ought to be teaching methods of thinking and general knowledge. Too much liberal education, and you hear students complaining that there’s no point to what they’re learning, since they’ll never use it again. Too much job training, and the material soon becomes dry and boring, like a checklist. Myself, I see the need for both types of education. As much as I enjoy theoretical concepts, it’s also important to pin things down to how you can actually use them, and vice versa.

I also liked the idea we discussed in class about maintaining amateur enthusiasm and mind-set while still obtaining professional credentials. Keeping up a good attitude can be hard when you begin to study anything seriously. Spend enough time with anything and you’ll start to get bored with it—you realize its flaws, the repetitive tasks you’re going to do over and over. Keeping our enthusiasm about what we do is a huge task, but if we can do it, it does so much for our lives.

Reading about Nibley’s war experiences has really brought into relief my own changing perceptions of war. It’s not that I ever thought war was a good thing, or even okay, but I think that there are fewer justifiable causes for war than I previously thought. What is a justifiable cause for attacking another nation? Clearly not greed or hatred, but what about injustice, cruelty, and wickedness? How far ought we to allow things to do before we feel justified in stepping in? Do we have to wait until their choices start adversely affecting us, or should we help out if innocent people are being destroyed? And aren’t innocent people always being affected? Yet we also have to make some allowances for agency—the wicked have to be allowed to prove they deserve destruction, and that can’t be done without injuring someone else. But how much is too much? When would God approve of us stepping in to stop suffering? I think some of the answer lies in why Nibley never talked about his experience visiting the concentration camp at Dachau. (I really wish he had spoken about it—I’d like to hear Nibley’s reaction to that total loss of human conscience. The brutality there seems to be the only hole in his statements for total pacifism.)

It must have been particularly hard for Nibley to serve in WWII after having spent his mission teaching the German people. But then again, it should be equally hard for any person to serve in a war against any other people. I watched The Last Samurai a few weeks ago with George. It’s a movie about a Japanese civil war between the forces of modernity and the traditional samurai. During one of the battle scenes, George remarked that the destruction was even sadder because it was Japanese killing Japanese. I sometimes wonder why we think this. Essentially, all war is equally tragic, people killing people. If we are truly trying to be like Christ, we should be seeing every person as he would, and fighting against any of them should be as painful as fighting against our own family.

01 March 2007

Analyzing Procrastination

Okay, this article on why we procrastinate is officially the coolest thing I've seen today. You all know my propensity to explain things through pretentious mathematical equations. Well, how about a mathematical equation to explain why I'm sitting here typing this instead of reading more Hugh Nibley.
You'll have to read the article to find out what it's supposed to mean, but I just had to laugh at the description of procrastinating a college term paper:

To help illustrate these characteristics, the following prototypical example is put forth: the college student’s essay paper. A college student who has been assigned an essay on September 15th, the start of a semester, due on December 15th, the course end. This student likes to socialize but he also likes to get good grades. The figure below maps the changes in expected utility for him over the course of the semester regarding his two choices, studying vs. socializing. Since the reward for socializing is always in the present, it maintains a uniformly high utility evaluation. For writing, its reward is temporally distant initially, diminishing its utility. Only towards the deadline do the effects of discounting decrease and writing becomes increasingly likely. In this example, the switch in motivational rank occurs on December 3rd, leaving just 12 days for concentrated effort. During this final hour, it is quite likely that earnest but empty promises (i.e., intentions) are made to start working earlier next time.
Amen, and amen.